If you’ve ever seen a cat foam at the mouth after riding to the vet’s office or getting a dose of medicine, you know that a little drool goes a very long way!
Some cats salivate profusely when scared. Others actually suffer from motion sickness (hence the drool-soaked cat carrier). Others will smack their lips and foam at the mouth if they feel nauseated or are about to vomit a hairball. On the other hand, the occasional cat drools with pleasure while being petted.
All of these causes of drooling are usually benign and short-lived. But if your cat is drooling or foaming at the mouth for no obvious reason, if drooling persists for more than a half hour, or if there are other symptoms then it’s time to call the vet.
Abnormal drooling happens for two major reasons: problems occurring inside the mouth, and those occurring elsewhere in the body. Pain or nausea stimulates drooling. Oral problems or neurologic conditions can interfere with swallowing, causing saliva to overflow.
Examples of problems in the mouth are:
- Dental disease (broken, decayed, or abscessed teeth)
- Gum disease (periodontal disease, stomatitis)
- Oral foreign body (fish hook, fish bone, string wrapped around tongue, stick)
- Oral mass (eosinophilic granuloma, tumor)
- Oral ulcer or laceration
- Salivary gland cyst
- Bee stings
Other signs of oral disease that may accompany drooling are foul breath, blood-tinged saliva, difficulty eating, or refusal to eat the usual foods. The cat may look uncomfortable and paw the mouth. Sometimes drooling is the first and only sign of a problem.
Problems elsewhere in the body that can cause drooling include:
- Disorders of the esophagus, stomach, or intestines—blockage, nausea
- Portosystemic shunt (a rare liver disorder)
- Advanced kidney disease
- Exposure to toxins or caustic chemicals
Exposure to toxins is an important consideration in a drooling cat. Some household cleaning products – ingested directly or licked off the fur – as well as some houseplants may burn the lining of the mouth and cause drooling. Certain flea dips and insecticides are very toxic to cats and may cause drooling. These may cause additional symptoms such as vomiting, muscle tremors, weakness, and lethargy. If your cat has these symptoms or you suspect a chemical exposure, seek veterinary care immediately. Bring labels or product information with you if possible.
Dental disease is another “biggy"—more than 80% of adult cats will develop periodontal, tooth and other oral cavity diseases that cause pain, leading to drooling.
The first thing some people think of when they see their cat foaming at the mouth is rabies. Happily, this is extremely unlikely unless a cat is unvaccinated. For drooling, foaming, or any worrisome symptom, it is always best to consult your veterinarian.